By Rob Pickard
If you havent already heard of Charles Smith or indeed tasted his K Vintners range from Washington State in the US, then this larger than life man and his big, powerful wines will come as a welcome surprise. Charles makes some of the finest wines in the Pacific North West and they have a personality and presence to match the man behind the label.
Syrah is his first love (The K in K Vintners comes from Que sera sera – geddit?) but he also works wonders with Riesling, Viognier and Bordeaux blends. The wines are big, plush and ripe but blessed with a brilliant cool freshness.
From January 2011, Bibendum will be stocking a selection from both Charles’ K Vintners range and his Charles Smith Wines range, and we are all massively excited about their arrival into the UK. On a recent trip to the UK, Charles and Bibendum brought his wines to London’s press and bloggers community with a dinner at Hawksmoor restaurant, showcasing the wines alongside the City’s finest steaks, the perfect combination for these big wines. To give you an insight into the man and his wines, and all that went on during the event, I have put together a selection from some of my favourite blogs on the evening at Hawskmoor.
First up, The Wine Sleuth – http://winesleuth.wordpress.com
“I met my hair twin the other night at Hawksmoor Steakhouse in London. We weren’t exactly hair twins, he’s blonde and I’m not but we both have wild and curly hair and we both like wine a lot! My hair twin in Charles Smith, ex-rock band manager and “2009 Food and Wine Magazine Winemaker of the Year” for K Vintners of Washington State.
Charles has quite a reputation as a innovator, marketing genius, and is never afraid to speak his mind, his opinion of European wine drinkers – they’re “pussies” if they look at the back label see 15.5% alcohol and deem it too much for them without even trying it first. Luckily or unluckily, depending on how you look at it, I didn’t realize the alcohol content until late in the evening while chatting to Charles. His wines are extremely well balanced. I would never have guessed that they contained so much alcohol, no hint of a burn or alcohol on the nose, just full bodied wines with refined tannins…”
Next up, the Wine Passionista – http://winepassionista.com
“…It’s always a good sign when everyone has three wine glasses instead of just one – this was no exception! After the Viognier, it was time to move to red, and what better way to get a full picture of Charles’ wines than by tasting them alongside each other and with the main course…steak! The supersized portions continued with heapings of tender porterhouse and rib-eye steaks, overflowing bone marrow (pictured below) and a myriad of sides – sweet potatoes, mushrooms, creamed spinach, chips… The accompanying K Vintners wines were the Northridge Syrah 2008 (Wahluke Slope), Morrison Lane Syrah 2008 (Walla Walla) and The Creator 2008 (Columbia Valley) a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, from two different sites, and Syrah.
We were all quite surprised at how soft the wines were – the tannins were extremely refined and well integrated – not at all gritty – which Charles puts down to the length of the growing season in Washington and the opportunity for the grapes to ripen in their own sweet time. They were all big wines though – two of the three wines had 15.5% alcohol, which is quite a bit higher than the majority of wines from Europe (in line with California however) but Charles explained that he’s not trying to make wines with big alcohol (which we didn’t notice at all by the way), he simply picks the grapes when they’re ready, whether they’re 13% or 16%.
The food and wine combination was superb and it’s a sure bet that no-one went home hungry or thirsty that night!”
Read more and watch Tara’s video interview with Charles: A Wild & Craaazy Guy! Winemaker Charles Smith
Last but by no means least, Wine Woman & Song – http://www.winewomansong.co.uk/
When Bill Grundy famously interviewed the Sex Pistols for ITV in 1976 he asked Siouxsie Sioux, was she worried or was she enjoying herself… “Enjoying myself,” she replies. But then the conversation controversially turns on a few swear words and the interviews ends at only 1 minute 30 seconds.
“My wines are not for everybody. My wines are not friendly. They are preposterous,” answers Charles Smith from K Vintners to my question whether the reds at 15% alcohol are a true expression of Walla Walla, Washington State.
This was to be a short interview. As I have not tasted many wines from Washington State, I have had to come to my own conclusions. Well, are they as preposterous as the winemaker says?
Hardly. They are perfectly nice. In particular, the Viognier is a quiet little floral with good acidity and restrained manners. We had the Viognier with lobster and it was the best food match of the evening, singing together more like Westminster Abbey choir than a DIY thrash punk band. If this is punk, then it’s the young girl with piercings in a floral dress, ripped black stockings and Doc Martins who longs to be asked back to the boyfriend’s parents for dinner. Forget preposterous and first impressions, the K Vintners’ Viognier is perfectly well-balanced.
The Syrah are very high alcohol at 15% but they take it in their stride. The sweet fruit and white pepper notes of 2008 Morison Lane Syrah worked well with the huge, char-grilled steaks. Did I enjoy myself? Maybe less than Siouxsie Sioux but certainly more than Bill Grundy.
Check out Juel’s original post on Juel’s blog: Anarchy in the UK? K Vintners’ Viognier, Washington State
Big thanks as ever to Denise, Tara and Juel for letting us syndicate their posts. Look out for Charles’ wines hitting these shores in January 2011.